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How Long Does Divorce Mediation Take?

Complex marriages between people who disagree tend to result in mediation lasting eight hours or longer. Conversely, couples with few issues can end the process within just one session lasting an hour or two. 

If your mediation is lengthy, you're not always to blame. Divorces can be messy, and sometimes, people struggle to sort out their difficulties mindfully. 

8 factors that impact your mediation's length

The complexities of your marriage can dictate how long mediation takes, and you can't control these factors. But you can control how you prepare for the day and how you conduct yourself during the discussions. 

These are known factors that can lengthen (or shorten) your mediation sessions: 

1. Your children

Years ago, mothers almost always got custody over their children in a divorce. That's changing. Researchers say that shared physical custody agreements grow more common every year.

If you have children, you must determine who will house them, how often they'll visit the other parent, and how much one party might pay the other in child support. If you agree to shared custody, you must still hammer out plenty of details, which takes time. 

2. Your assets

The average net worth of Americans between the ages 45 and 54 is $833,200. When you divorce, everything you own is on the table for discussion, including these things:

  • Checking accounts
  • Saving accounts
  • Retirement accounts
  • Rental properties
  • Primary home 

Even small things, like dish sets or living room furniture, could hold deep meaning for one or both of you. And you must decide who gets what and who is left out.

The longer your list of assets to split, and the stronger you feel about the items on that list, the longer you'll need to talk. If you both won’t budge on certain items, this process can last for quite a while.

3. Your debts 

The average American has more than $96,000 in debt. Loans you start as a couple become shared burdens you must split when you divorce. 

And sometimes, couples are surprised at the size of the bills they face. If a spouse self-medicates with shopping, for example, a nasty surprise could meet you at the mediation table. 

In general, bigger bills combined with financial disloyalty lead to longer and more contentious mediation discussions. 

4. Your pre-existing agreements

Of Americans who have been married or are currently engaged, 15% have signed a prenuptial agreement. These documents contain details about what happens to assets and debts when couples separate, and they're typically legally binding.

If you enter mediation with a prenuptial agreement, you've already settled some core questions, and you can't change the answers now. Your mediation session could be tightly focused on the few issues you didn't address in your signed document, making the conversation a short one.

5. Your preparation for mediation

Some couples do a lot of legwork before their mediation session begins. They hammer out the topics to discuss and the ground rules for the discussion. They may even resolve an item or two in these discussions so they don't have to talk them through in person. 

The less you discuss in advance, the more you must do when you meet.

6. Your goals for the mediation

Divorces are emotional, and some couples enter mediation meetings with revenge on their mind. Others come to the meeting hoping to make quick agreements so they can end their marriage as soon as possible. 

If you come to your mediation hoping to resolve issues quickly, your mediation will move fast. If your spouse sees that you are willing to compromise, they may respond in kind, and this can expedite things.

7. Your relationship with your spouse

Most divorcing couples aren't thrilled with one another. But some manage to put hard feelings aside to focus on winding down their marriages as quickly as possible. If you can foster a good relationship with your spouse for this conversation, the process will end a little quicker.

8. Your mediator's skill

Mediators typically (but not always) need a bachelor's degree, and they spend less than five years in a related occupation before they start work. Mediators are trained, professional, and ready to help couples end their marriages. 

But mediators have different skill levels. Some have been at work for decades, helping couples in similar situations. Others are relatively new and may not be ready for a tough talk. Seasoned mediators may be able to better expedite the entire process.

Our guide will help set you up for a successful mediation.

Will your mediation be short or long?

It's impossible to predict how long your mediation will last until you get started. But a few core factors could help you understand if your sessions will be long or short. 

Your mediation could be short if you fit these criteria:

  • You have few items to discuss.
  • You have signed a prenuptial agreement. 
  • You are working with a skilled mediator. 
  • You enter the discussion ready to negotiate with your spouse.

Your mediation could be longer if you fit these criteria:

  • You have plenty of assets and debts to distribute. 
  • You don't work well with your spouse.
  • You aren't prepared for the discussion. 

A longer mediation isn't necessarily a bad thing. You must take the time you need to resolve the issues that are blocking your divorce from moving forward. But do what you can to prepare for this important day so you don't waste anyone's time. If everyone is on the same page and ready to cooperate, the process shouldn’t stall.

References

Increases in Shared Custody After Divorce in the United States. (June 2022). Demographic Research. 
Here's the Average Net Worth of Americans Ages 65 to 74. (November 2022). CNBC.
Average American Debt 2021. (November 2022). Bankrate. 
More Couples Are Signing Prenups Before Saying "I Do." (July 2022). The Harris Poll. 
Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators. (October 2022). U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.